Page images






N the “Wasps " we have a most vivid picture and


cient Athens. The state treasury was replenished by fines imposed by the courts upon delinquents, and of the money thus extorted a great part was bestowed on public feasts and amusements. Under such circumstances a rich defendant stood but a slender chance of escape; and the six thousand dicasts, or jurymen, of Athens, acquired a passionate fondness for attending the courts. In this comedy, Philocleon, an old dicast, has become nearly insane in his eagerness to discharge his official duties. “He cannot sleep for thinking of the

“ bench, and prefers to his comfortable bed at home a shake-down at the door of the court, that he may secure a good seat in the front row when the business com


mences. There, with his staff in his hand, and his judicial cloak on his shoulders, his delight is to sit all day earning his three oboli, and having his ears tickled with the gross flattery by which litigant parties at Athens sought to conciliate the favor of the judges." His son is much disgusted at his father's mania, and determines to prevent his going abroad, and so guards the outer door, and stretches a net over the court-yard. The old dicast tries to escape by way of the chimney, but in spite of his assertion that he is smoke, is dislodged. Next he pretends to be anxious to go out to sell an ass; but the son offers to do it for him, and bringing out the animal, discovers that the old man had strapped himself under its belly. Another attempt to escape, by creeping along the roof-tiles, is baffled. Just then a chorus of his fellow-dicasts, dressed and painted to resemble wasps, call on their way to court to inquire why their brother does not accompany them. The wasps and the father rail against the son, who, in defence, asserts that his father has been cheated, and that the career of the dicast is a state of abject servitude. The old man insists that he has, by virtue of his office, an almost despotic power. The chorus is appointed to determine the justice of the dispute, and the argument commences. In Philocleon's account of the delights of his office, the poet lashes the abuses of the system with an unsparing hand. The result of the argument is, that the chorus entreat the old man to submit to his son's wishes. But as the passion is still strong on him, the son suggests that he shall institute a domestic court, and try causes at home. Opportunely a dog, Cleon, appears, and complains that another dog, Labes, has carried off and eaten a Sicilian cheese. The old man insists on trying this cause immediately. So the indictment is framed,

“The dog of Cydathenus doth present

Dog Labes, of Æxone, for that he -
Singly, alone — did swallow and devour

One whole Sicilian cheese, against the peace.” The trial goes on, speeches are made pro and con; and the old dicast votes an acquittal for the first time.


has his joke on the lawyers in “Phormio, the Parasite." He makes a father consult three lawyers together as to the feasibility of setting aside a judgment of the court upon certain affairs of his son. One advises him that the decree will certainly be reversed; another that it assuredly cannot be reversed ; and the third declares it an intricate question, and that he needs time to deliberate. The questioner leaves in despair, saying he is much more at a loss than before.


This very prolific and talented author, in an obscure play entitled “Sir Thomas More,” found in the collection of the Shakspeare Society, and supposed to have been composed about the close of the sixteenth century, introduces us to a merry scene in court. Lifter is haled before the court on a charge of picking a pocket. Smart, the complainant, appears in person, and by Suresbie, as his attorney. The attorney takes the novel ground that the complainant was to blame for carrying so much money as ten pounds, the sum he lost, about him :

“I promise ye, a man that goes abroade

With an intent of trueth, meeting such a bootie,
May be provokte to that he never meante.
What makes so many pilferers and fellons,
But such fond baites that foolish people lay
To tempt the needie, miserable wretche?”

While the jury are out, Sir Thomas More, then sheriff, offers the prisoner, if he will pick the attorney's pocket, to bring him safely off from this accusation. This is done, and the purse is handed to Sir Thomas. The jury find the prisoner guilty. He is sentenced to die; and according to custom, a subscription is taken to buy him a burial-place. When Suresbie looks for his purse, it is, of course, gone; and he makes great outcry, alleging it contained seven pounds. Thereupon Sir Thomas quotes to him his own views above given on carrying about so much money, in hæc verba. His purse is returned to him; and we conclude, although it is not expressly stated, that the prisoner is let off. This incident is founded on facts related in a Life of Sir Thomas.

Justice was more speedy in those days than now, may believe what the sheriff says of some criminals sentenced to execution :

if we

“ Bring them away to execution ;
The writt is come aboove two houres since:
The cyttie will be fynde for this neglect.”

After Sir Thomas is made chancellor, expecting a visit of ceremony from the learned Erasmus, he dresses up his servant Randall in his robes of office, and passes him off on the scholar as the chancellor. The cheat is discovered when Erasmus addresses the fictitious chancellor in Latin, and is answered in English, rather commonplace at that. On More's fall, he declares that

“halting souldiers and poore needie schollers

Have had my gettings in the Chancerie ;” and laughs to himself,

“ To thinke but what a cheate the crowne shall have

By my attaindour!” On the scaffold, to the executioner, who asks his forgiveness, he gives his purse, saying, “I had rather it were in thy power to forgive me, for thou hast the sharpest action against me; the law, my honest freend, lyes thy hands now; here's thy fee; and my good fellowe, let my suite be dispatchted presently; for 'tis all one payne, to dye a lingering death, and to live in the continual mill of a lawe suite."


In Robert Greene's “ London and England,” we find a client “fain to lay his wife's best gown to pawn” for a lawyer's fees. Thrasibulus borrowed forty pounds of a usurer, “whereof he received ten pound in

and thirty pound in lute strings, whereof he could by great friendship make but five pound." By the obligation, the money was to be repaid between three and four o'clock of a certain afternoon; but the usurer held the debtor with “brabbling" (quarrelling) "till the clock strook." Held, that the debtor lost his lands which he had “bound in recognizance” for the loan. So Alcon lost his cow which he pledged to the usurer, because he broke a day. In this instance the interest was eighteen pence a week, and the “


usury was the cow's milk.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »